Your body needs macronutrients (including carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) to function—but the "correct" daily intake of any macro can vary greatly based on a person's diet and fitness goals. Whether you're trying to build muscle or simply keep your weight in check, one macro you shouldn't overlook is protein. So, what exactly is protein, and what role does it play in your health and wellness? We're covering that and offering an easy way to calculate your recommended daily protein intake below.
What Is Protein?Before you can determine how much protein you need in your diet, it's important to have at least a basic understanding of what protein is. You already know that it's a macronutrient, but there's a lot more to it than that. More specifically, protein is a macro that's made of amino acids that are joined together by peptide bonds.
What Does Protein Do?Derived from the Greek "protos," protein comprises about 15% of a person's body weight and fuels many of the body's most critical processes. The human body is capable of producing some protein / amino acids on its own, but others must be obtained from food. These essential amino acids mostly come from animal sources, but nuts and legumes can be viable sources as well.
What Are the Benefits of Protein?There are many health and wellness benefits you can enjoy when you're consuming the appropriate amount of protein in your diet. For starters, protein is key to carrying oxygen throughout the blood and making antibodies to fight off infections. Protein also aids in the creation of new cells to keep you healthy. For those looking to lose or maintain weight, protein is also ideal for curbing appetite and boosting metabolism. By eating plenty of protein, you may be able to feel fuller longer without consuming too many calories. Likewise, if you're looking to increase your muscle mass, you won't be able to do this without appropriate protein consumption. That's because protein provides the building blocks your body needs to heal and grow muscle tissue. Protein has also been found to:
- Lower blood pressure
- Improve bone density
- Speed up recovery after injuries
How Much Protein Do I Need Per Day?Now that you have a better understanding of what protein is and what it does for your body, you may be wondering, "How much protein should I eat a day?" Unfortunately, there's no simple or universal answer to the question of how much protein per day a person needs; recommendations can vary not only by age group but also by overall health and other factors. Likewise, a person who is trying to build muscle mass will need to consume more protein than the "average" person. According to the United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Health and Human Services, basic daily protein recommendations are as follows:
- Children under 4: 13 grams
- Children 4–8 years: 19 grams
- Children 9–13: 34 grams
- Women and girls 14 and older: 46 grams
- Boys 14–18: 52 grams
- Men 19 and older: 56 grams
Can You Have Too Much Protein?Getting the appropriate amount of protein in your diet can help you stay healthier, curb your appetite, and even build more muscle mass. However, there is such a thing as too much protein. So, how much protein is too much? Again, this will be very dependent on your age and physical activity levels. Generally, however, if more than 35% of your daily calories are coming from protein sources, you're probably overdoing it. If you consume 2,000 calories per day, this means that no more than 700 of those calories should be from protein.
What Are the Negative Effects of Too Much Protein?While eating a little too much protein on occasion isn't likely to result in any long-term problems, consuming high amounts of protein for an extended period of time can come with some inherent risks. In some cases, for example, you may experience unwanted weight gain. That's because when you consume too much protein, your body may actually store it as fat. Meanwhile, stomach and digestive issues are also quite common among those who eat too much protein. Constipation and diarrhea are the most common side effects. This is believed to occur because high-protein diets also tend to be lower in carbohydrates, which contain fiber. Without enough fiber in your diet, constipation or loose stools can occur. More serious risks associated with too much protein include the potential for kidney damage, which can occur when the amino acids that make up proteins secrete nitrogen. The kidneys then have to work harder to get rid of nitrogen and other waste products from the high levels of protein. Some other possible risks associated with excessive protein consumption include:
- Heart disease
- Loss of calcium/bone density
What Foods Are Good Sources of Protein?Clearly, figuring out the right balance of protein in your diet is important to your health and wellness. So, what are some of the best sources of protein you can incorporate into your diet? Many protein sources are animal-based:
- Red meat
- Beans and legumes
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
- Brussels sprouts